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Developer scales down bid to rezone

Alden Town Hall was bursting at the seams with residents who adorned themselves with neon unhappy-face stickers during the latest discussion between Frank Russo of Russo Developers & Builders and the Town Board.

During a work session Tuesday evening, where public comment was prohibited, residents sat quietly as the board listened to Russo's attorney, Richard J. Sherwood, explain that there would be a change in the developer's plans.

"There has been a change in the application. It is now a reduced area. We will not request a rezone for the entire parcel," Sherwood said. "The reason for the reduction has to do with elevation and topography."

Under the revised application, Russo requests rezoning of 30.14 acres, as opposed to an earlier application for more than 90 acres.

"I don't have any other potential tenants for that site," Russo said after the question-and-answer session with the board. "To completely rezone doesn't make any sense. This is my opposition's main complaint -- that I was asking to rezone too much."

While Russo said he is working toward compromise within the small-town community, not everyone sees it as such.

"We are skeptical of that," said David J. Seeger, an attorney for the Alden Residents for Responsible Growth. "They are carving out premier property and leaving a swamp. Who is going to pay taxes on a swamp?"

Even with the project downsize, Seeger sees problems with the site no matter what retail establishment is based there.

"We are worried about the pollution it is going to generate [from runoff and human waste]," Seeger said. "There is a state-protected aquifer and federally protected wetlands right next door."

Don Owens of Earth Dimension, who accompanied Russo and his attorney to the meeting, said the smaller parcel that is now being looked at for rezoning will not be "encumbering on any wetlands."

After the close of the meeting, Town Supervisor Ronald Smith moved for a resolution that would place the developer's application back before the town's Planning Board.

While Russo was asked by one resident right before the meeting's end whether he would entertain questions, he declined.

"I am open to criticism, and I am open to new ideas," Russo said after the meeting, adding that he would invite comment during a public hearing.

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